This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
DaveyPeppers’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Probably the best scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service comes when Harry shows Eggsy a room of mundane newspaper clippings. He expresses that these are all newspapers the day after the world was saved, and the mundanity reminds them that normal is the goal and tragedy, spectacle, and abnormality are the hinderance to that goal. So I get what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is trying to do. It's a mundane couple of days around Hollywood, all revolving around the loaded gun that is Sharon Tate, without the gun ever being fired.
There's something really nice about the way that Once Upon a Time sees the world, that action-movie heroics are a necessity and that every tragedy can be solved by standing between the damsel and the distress. It acknowledges this weird mythos that the murder of Sharon Tate has gained over the years, and the movie's best parts are just watching Margot Robbie (in an understated, stellar performance) just float through her life, marveling with childlike glee at the opportunities she's been given. It works because we know the ending. Much like how Inglorious Basterds is cathartic only if you know the ending of World War II (a flaw with the film in concept, but I don't think many people seeing that movie aren't familiar with the history), Once Upon a Time only really works if you know that Sharon Tate was killed by the Manson family. Building the film around a much less notable piece of history (even though it feels notable to film circles, coming from someone who's been fascinated with the case for a while) is a ballsy, respectable, and ultimately to me, unsuccessful move.
Tate's non-murder is the building block of the film, but the movie belongs to Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, in this weird slice-of-life movie that whirls throughout various old Hollywood iconography with little care other than "hey look it's Hollywood!" And while it is gorgeous and somewhat intoxicating, when the high wears off it feels empty. This is easily the quietest of Tarantino's work, and with the whip-smart dialogue and ultra-violence removed, what's left is nothing more than a tour through the lives of two men that isn't all that interesting outside of its setting. There's some criticism of the nostalgia and the history, like how Roman Polanski is given zero lines and is almost exclusively treated as nothing more than Sharon Tate's husband, but not enough to make a strong case either for or against this tinseltown fever dream.
It feels quiet not out of craft, but out of necessity, like someone sat Tarantino down and told him to grow up, but the evolution isn't natural. Almost every role is a cameo, every character a small reflection of the passably interesting Dalton.
The film in general feels like a documentary because of its unstructured, free-form feeling, like how life is, with characters and plot threads coming in and out and reaching no natural fruition. But as I've said before, movies aren't like life is, they're like life feels, and a movie like this that reaches into so much history for its setting and emotional impact can only work for me if it has something to say and a reason to exist, even if it's something as shallow as "hey wouldn't it be great if we killed Hitler". "Hey wouldn't it be great if Sharon Tate didn't die" is close, but it's not enough to justify Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's weird concoction of satire, tragedy, character drama, and tour guide.